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Desert's Diverse Life May Help Teach Children

May 08, 1987|SUSAN HEEGER

When Irvine poet Mitsuye Yamada was invited to collaborate with painter Karen Wheeler on an "Imaginarium" performance mixing art and language, Yamada suggested a desert theme.

"There's much more to the desert than we first see," said Yamada, an English professor at Cypress College who also is the current poet-in-residence at Pitzer College in Claremont. "It's not aggressive; it looks static and strange. (Desert) animals don't fit our concept of beauty. But if you study them, they are beautiful, and so intricate."

Yamada hopes that children who attend "Imaginarium" Saturday at the Mercantile Building in Santa Ana will sense the similarity between this "different," yet valuable landscape and people who appear different and are sometimes valued less than others, such as the disabled, the elderly and people of various ethnic groups.

During a recent planning session for their performance, Wheeler and Yamada, a soft-voiced woman of 65, spread an armload of picture pamphlets about the desert on the painter's kitchen table. As Wheeler sketched, Yamada read her poems.

"The CROTALUS/though poisonous/is not quarrelsome/if left in peace . . . " intoned Yamada, as a rattlesnake flowed sinuously from Wheeler's pen to paper.

Next came a jointed scorpion, a lizard, and a blooming yucca.

"That was fast," Yamada said. "You were afraid you'd be slow."

Wheeler frowned and asked, "Are they big enough?"

The artist's crimped hand has a maximum reach of four inches, making large drawings difficult. But she vetoed Yamada's suggestion to draw at an overhead projector that could enlarge the images.

"I'd rather sit with the kids, so they can see me draw and ask me questions," Wheeler explained.

The poet studied Wheeler's exotic crowd of tiny creatures, then turned a page and read:

" . . . no single species

dominates the land

The animals and plants

keep a fragile balance

and help each other . . . "

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